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What’s The Difference Between Formula and Cow’s Milk?

What’s The Difference Between Formula and Cow’s Milk?

Even though most formulas are made from cow’s milk, there are significant differences between the two in terms of nutrition. Cow’s milk is not recommended for babies under the age of one – because it won’t meet their nutritional needs. 

Babies who are already eating solids from six months onwards can have cow’s milk as part of their food – such as on cereal – but it shouldn’t replace formula or be given as a drink. 

Formula vs Cow’s Milk

Formula is designed as a replacement for breastmilk, meaning it’s been modified to make it as close to breastmilk as possible, with the right balance of proteins, vitamins and healthy fats. 

The protein content of cow’s milk is higher than most babies would tolerate, so formula has lowered protein levels. It’s also designed to be easier to digest – your baby’s tiny tummy would struggle to gain the right amount of nutrition from cow’s milk. 

Ingredients that good quality formula includes that cow’s milk does not include:

  • Essential fatty acids like Omega 3 (DHA) and Omega 6 (ARA) for healthy brain development.
  • Prebiotics and probiotics. These occur naturally in the lactic acid in breastmilk, and are helpful for formula fed babies to support the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

It’s worth noting that not all formulas are the same, and regulations differ around the world. European organic formulas are generally closest to breastmilk, as regulations in the EU are stricter than elsewhere.

How much formula should you give your baby?

Every baby is different, but as a general guide, they’ll need around 2.5 ounces of formula per pound of bodyweight in the first six months (up to 32 ounces maximum per day).

It’s pretty difficult to overfeed or underfeed a baby – they’ll generally let you know if they’re hungry, and will simply refuse a bottle when they’re full. 

Once your baby hits six months and is eating solids, they’ll gradually start taking less milk. The first foods you feed your baby are likely to be fruits and vegetables, which are low in calories, and many babies take a few months to start eating 3 full meals. Take your cue from your little one – if they’re eating lots of solid food, reduce their formula. If they’re still tasting and testing, you might need to wait a while. 

Once your baby is established on solids, they’ll need around 16 to 24 ounces of formula until their first birthday. Then they can move to cow’s milk, or onto a toddler formula. They can also get some of their calcium from dairy foods like cheese and yogurt.

If my baby is allergic to cow’s milk formula, will they always be allergic to dairy foods?

Not necessarily. Babies who have a milk protein allergy will usually grow out of it over time. Talk to your pediatrician about when it might be safe to move away from a specialist hypoallergenic formula and try them on regular milk or formula. 

If your baby has a lactose intolerance, that’s usually permanent and genetic. Again, talk to your pediatrician to see what your options are for your little one’s diet as they grow.

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